LINDSBORG — Louise Hanson, a librarian from Lawrence whose personal bookshelves are filled with more than 500 cookbooks, will present "Tasting the Past: Exploring Kansas Food Memories" at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at Bethany Home Activity Center, 321 N. Chestnut St. in Lindsborg.
Community cookbooks are fascinating for Hanson, who reads through them to glean what Kansas' earliest settlers were eating both every day and for special occasions.
"It's a great source of primary material," Hanson said. "...Of course, at the time of settlement, they didn't have a lot of choice about what to eat because of what was available."
Kansans who immigrated from other countries did what they could to preserve their cultural heritage — whether they were German, Czech, Scottish, Swedish, Greek, etc. — by preparing and passing down recipes of dishes that reminded them of home.
In her presentation, Hanson will show pictures of both recipes and people at ethnically-centered celebrations.
'It's an endlessly fascinating story to talk about food and how we try to reinvent ourselves and our identity," Hanson said.
Some menu items underwent significant changes through Kansas' history.
"There is one that I was kind of captivated by, and that is the soup called borscht," Hanson said. "...Kansas has a lot of ways of preparing it."
While the sour soup is still prepared by some with a beetroot base, other cooks use cabbage or rye bread.
"It even has evolved, for some people, to use canned baked beans," Hanson said. "It's an example of how food takes on various forms and how it may or may not be what we think it is and how we use processed ingredients to change it."
Hanson will also talk about dishes such as scrapple, which was made from meat scraps from the head of an animal mixed with fillers, and the part they played in Kansans' diets.
While some ethnic and religious populations claimed to have their own traditional recipes, Hanson found there were more similarities than differences.
"Many foods that seem to be different are very much the same — like pierogies and bierocks," Hanson said.
Not only are pierogies and bierocks both dough pockets filled with meat and/or vegetables, their names are variations on the same word, according to Hanson.
"Ethnic groups will claim one version of it as their own, but it's really not dissimilar from what other groups have," Hanson said.
At her talks, Hanson's audiences often share their own memories of food prepared in their younger years — some of which they vividly recall being forced to eat.
"They're kind of reliving some of the nightmare scenarios of their childhood," Hanson laughed, "(But) people also talk about their favorite foods and their memories of childhood and home."
Oysters were one of the foods often mentioned to Hanson as being distasteful to children.
"There's a thought that 100 years ago, we were only eating local food, but that's not totally the case," Hanson said. "...Kansas, in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, was flooded with barrels of oysters that were shipped in on the railroad."
Packed in ice, the oysters had to be consumed quickly once they reached their destination.
"They were scalloped, fried, creamed, baked — any way you could prepare oysters," Hanson said.
Some cities had cauldrons in the center of town in order to cook large quantities of oyster chowder.
"It was a social event," Hanson said. "...Nowadays, in Kansas cookbooks, you rarely see oyster recipes."
Hanson studies the historical cooking trends chronicled in cookbooks and noted an increase in both salt and sugar as the years progressed.
She also takes the pulse of current dietary habits across America.
"Nationally, people are getting away from wheat and meat, so what Kansas is known for and is good at raising is trending out of the country's diet," Hanson said.
"Tasting the Past: Exploring Kansas Food Memories" is the first of Smoky Valley Historical Association's 2019-2020 programs. For more information about upcoming programs, visit smokyvalleyhistory.org.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.